Happy Families – A game of comparisons

I attended a parenting course many years ago and apart from the mind-numbing rigidity of the rules-based strategy they espoused, I came away with a bit of advice that has stuck with me through the years.

‘If you want happy kids, focus on creating a happy marriage.’

It’s simple and yes, a little simplistic, but there is a gold thread of truth in this statement.

There are no, one-size fits all formulas, or magic tricks to raising happy healthy kids. We instinctively know that, yet strangely we often believe everyone else seems to have found the solution. In parenting, perhaps more than any other role in life, we buy into playing the comparison game to excess. From the moment a baby is born, many parents start the endless measuring, comparing and judging as to whether the child is ahead or behind in achieving those ‘vital’ milestones of development. Parents who play this game aspire for above average, will grudgingly accept ‘normal’ but are often left confused and dismayed with anything less than that. Somehow, a parent’s identity, value and effectiveness is linked to this freshly-hatched little person who, must prove to the world in each stage of life, that we’ve ‘done good’ in raising them.

Some of us feel secret relief when another parent confesses to having a troubled teen. At least ours isn’t that bad! We can feel a niggling shame and guilt when our child is the one in trouble at school most days. We try hard to duck and weave while other parents’ eyes are on us as we rush through the school carpark.

I have experienced all those emotions if I’m to be honest. In our family we ranged from having a child who was the ‘teacher’s pet,’ the ‘good kid,’ to having teachers lining up in the foyer of the school wanting to vent at me as they battled to deal with our ‘class clown, always in detention,’ child. We also had a child who quietly slipped on through in his usual, ‘don’t notice me, I don’t want to make any waves,’ style.

At the time my reactions probably landed somewhere between humiliation and smug satisfaction, but as realists we came to the conclusion that we couldn’t take credit for the ‘teacher’s pet’ and avoid taking responsibility for the one who made the teachers work harder to earn their money every day.

I look back now and know that the bigger issue for us as parents was to ensure our children knew they were loved, accepted, treasured and respected. Why? That’s what my husband and I wanted for us in our relationship too. We sought to honour their unique personalities and ways of seeing and dealing with the world. Our job was not to create clones, not crush, but shape their uniqueness, helping them deal with the situations where they didn’t always find safe landings.

We sought and still do, despite major and minor hiccups, (’cause that’s life) to provide a loving safe space, where we as a couple intentionally invest in our shared relationship. Our focus has been on ‘fighting’ to keep it as healthy as possible in every season and stage of our lives together. For the most part, we’ve been very happily married and we hold no ‘smug satisfaction’ in that at all. One of life’s miracles is ‘to have and to hold until death do us part.’ Sometimes it’s just not possible.

Have our children always been happy? Only they can answer that one. I, one day, want to be brave enough to ask them how our marriage ‘for better or for worse,’ impacted them as they grew.

But what we have learned over time is to quit playing the comparison game and focus on building and maintaining a happy, healthy partnership as a couple. We consider our adult children to be dear friends and companions in life. We enjoy their unique personalities and perspectives, we laugh together, face challenges together, listen to each other and learn from each other. We are happy, together.

James 2:13 ‘Mercy triumphs over judgement.’

Best Life Together

Even before we say ‘I do’ to our ‘perfect match’ we have a question forming in our mind bursting to the surface with the inevitibility of a balloon under water. It can only be supressed for so long.

‘Do I have what it takes to make this work?’

Until we do life together in the raw beauty of ordinary intimacy we have no mirroring reality of our innate vulnerabilities, hidden strengths, crazy making vagaries, (floor-drobe, skid marks in toilet bowls, noisy eating, oh, and toothpaste squeeze), among other virtues and vices.

Often our families of origin have done their best to reward sociable behaviour and monitor with reasonable humour and tolerance the wayward but loveable delinquent or diva.

Social and emotional development in ‘peer central’, also known as ‘school’, shaped or shattered in turn.

Workplaces either reward viability or quietly move you sideways until the door becomes an obvious point of exit due to ‘downsizing’ of course!

We really don’t have a clue how to answer the question. Who could ever know? Where do we honestly intentionally, impartially and intrinsically learn the vital life skills required to make relationships work for the long haul with satisfaction guaranteed?

Many years ago, my then 16 year old son, came to chat about why he’d just broken up with his girl-friend. ‘Mum,’ he said with a sigh, “Im not ready to be emotionally responsible for someone else.”

Where did such ancient wisdom spring from? Old head on young shoulders indeed. But there is a valuable truth here.

When we say ‘I do’, we are agreeing to bring our ‘best self’ to doing life together. We are agreeing to care, support, share, give, receive, be available, vulnerable, real, responsive and so much more. We are committing to be emotionally responsible for ourselves individually and for us as a couple in order to build a mutually satisfying relationship where we thrive individually and together, seeking to create a loving, nurturing and safe environment for a family to flourish.

Instead of the haphazard hope that life has taught you the skills to make a life together work I recommend you invest in a reality check. Discover together the skills needed to last a lifetime.

Sign up today for our ‘Best Life Together Coaching’. Our coaching is designed for each stage of life together. It’s never too late to learn new skills to add some spark to relationships in transition or provide resources to re-ignite relationships in difficulty.

An investment for a lifetime. You and your partner are worth it. Always.